Israel keen to establish ties with SE Asia's Muslim nations - envoy

·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: Israeli woman holds a flag by Damascus gate just outside Jerusalem's Old City

By Joseph Sipalan

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Israel is willing to work towards establishing ties with Southeast Asia's Muslim majority nations, its ambassador to Singapore said on Thursday, despite their condemnation in May of Israeli air strikes on Gaza.

The region's three Muslim-majority states - Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei - sharply criticised the Israeli attacks during 11 days of hostilities in which medics said over 250 Palestinians were killed and 13 people killed in Israel by rockets fired by Hamas and other Islamist militant groups.

Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei had urged the United Nations to step in and stop "the atrocities carried out against the Palestinian people".

The three countries do not have formal ties with Israel and have repeatedly called for an end to Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories and for a two-state solution based on borders before the 1967 Middle East war.

Sagi Karni, Israel's ambassador to Singapore, said the criticism from the three nations' leaders was "not honest" and ignored "the true nature of the conflict", which he said was between Israel and Hamas and not the Palestinian people.

"Hamas is an anti-Semitic organisation ... I'm not sure that many of the people participating in social media debates truly understand the radical and fascist nature of Hamas," he told Reuters in a video interview. Hamas rejects accusations of anti-Semitism.

Karni said Israel acknowledged there were civilian casualties during the 11-day hostilities, but that the only way for any party to have meaningful influence over what happens in the Middle East was by establishing relations with Israel.

"We are willing to talk, we are willing to meet, and the door is open as far as we are concerned. I don't think it's so difficult to find us," he said.

Israel has embassies in Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines and Myanmar, among other countries in Asia.

Four Arab states - the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco - agreed last year to normalise relations with Israel under U.S.-brokered deals.

(Reporting by Joseph Sipalan; Editing by Martin Petty and Timothy Heritage)

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